For those film obsessed people like myself in Ireland, this annual treat has continually surpassed itself year upon year of its four young years. It boasts more than one hundred films from countries as diverse as Iceland, Sweden, South Africa and Thailand (34 in all). The level of these entrants is astonishing covering old cult favourites (Ballad of Jack and Rose, Exotica), to brooding measures of seriousness (Proof, Syriana) and of course the controversial world has to have a show - Dumplings and Sugar.
First off, thanks here must go to both Joe Ambrose for getting me in touch with the festivals organiser Nick Costello. A firm thank you then to Mr. Costello himself for the press tickets, etc.
All the festivities settled into three or four particular destinations within Dublin centre city. The snug Screen cinema and the Savoy cinema being personal favourites for myself. Over the course of ten days (17th - 26th), ten to fifteen films were on offer each day. The ticket pricing was nothing overblown I must add considering the choice on offer here.
The catalogue available encompasses that of Irish, European and World premieres. The much hyped Syriana opened the festivals second day. It is a taut and realistic film of elaborate moral proportions, setting a powerful tone against the backdrop of global oil corruption. George Clooney serves as the film's weighty central character, making his presence well known in what could possibly be his finest role to date. The diversity runs riot as this feature was followed by the comic-book inspired Neil Gaiman scripted 'Mirrormask' (also seeing its Irish premiere). Aimed more at a younger audience, it follows a young Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) from her circus life into an altogether weirder world of flying books, masked jesters and evil queens. It had a dreamy and very lush feel to it created by the wispy atmosphere and playfulness of the strange new world. Stuart Gordon (the veritable master of past horrors - Reanimator, Fortress, Bosy Snatchers) presents us with 'Edmond'. With the utterly remarkable William.H.Macy (Fargo, Magnoilia) staring, it would be of almost immediate interest to any cinematic fiend nosing around. Rather than the pathetic man demolished by the very world around him as he has usually been cast, Macy steps out and into a very Michael Douglas 'Falling Down' role, seeing his life wasted and from the shadows he creeps out and into a real life of release and puritanical freedom. It just that this new life equates itself with acts of violence and sleazy sex. Naturally then it is a treat to see Macy clamber from his past destitute roles and come into his own so strongly and at a time when his wife, Felicity Huffman, is staring in the tremendous 'Transamerica', also on offer here.
Danish director Lars Von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Idiots, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville) makes a more than welcome appearance at what may be his last Irish screening for some time as he has stated he wishes to relax in his old age. We hope he surprises us then with any future projects but one will have to wait and see. As for now, he gives us 'Manderlay', his thoughtful follow up to the mistreated Nicole Kidman vehicle 'Dogville'. Enough simply cannot be said about this man. His direction in all his films from 'Epidemic' through to the 'Kingdom Hospital' series is truly astounding. Manderlay recounts a tale of racial strife and humility with Bryce Dallas Howard (of 'the Village') as its centre role closely surrounded by cinematic veterans Danny Glover and Willem Dafoe. Like previous work, it involves how one person, seeing that a difference should be made somewhere, tries to alter the way of accepted routine; a brave story of freedom and slavery.
But as well as mixing up these larger known projects (like the superb 'Capote' which was also on offer. Surely a shoe-in for best male actor for Philip Seymore Hoffman? About time too if you ask just about... well, anyone...), the edge of Asian cinema was represented through a number of films.
Asian film tends to add a breathe of fresh air to any proceedings, either to lighten the mood in a Wang Kar-Wai manner or in this case like his Thai counterpart, Hou Hsiao-Hsien. His 'Three Times' receiving aplomb from critics alike. In the past he has been praised rightfully for abounding celluloid monsters such as the stunning 'Goodbye South, Goodbye' and 'Good Men, Good Women'. Here though he intertwines more emotion and human relationships dealing with three specific cases from three different times and of different substance. The first; that of a love story in a billiard parlour, the second; an affair at the start of the last century between a journalist and a prostitute and the third; that of a more modern love story caged in technology.
Fruit Chan's 'Dumplings' however is slightly different. It was a joy to watch but, I say this rarely, excruciating to watch (similar to 'that' scene in Irreversible, when you have no remote and can't walk out). Revolving around the common Chinese obsession of women trying to rejuvenate their youthful looks, this is a tale of vanity, infidelity, a race against time and....eh...aborted foetuses! Original, darkly comical but all at once so very visceral and haunting. A must see. I dare you.
There was a mixed bag then of many films brought to our attention through the media over the course of the last six months or so - the startling 'Tsotsi'. About a South African gangster forced to accept the responsibility of caring for a baby after murdering its mother (this was nominated at this years BAFTAs). The maths-mental film 'Proof' staring Jake 'gay-cowboy' Gyllenhaal and Gwyneth Paltrow and Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut 'The three Burials of Melquiades Estrada'.
The last viewing I saw was the terrific 'The Proposition' directed by John Hillcoat and written by the ever interesting Nick Cave (a name that yielded itself some immediate interest. It's fantastic when a musician tries to elevate a movie by doing more than the usual soundtrack). It is a cool and slickly violent western staring Guy Pearce (on form as usual), the truly great Danny Huston and Ray Winstone (literally scene-stealing here). It becomes a simple tale of necessary revenge and is set amidst the post-colonial racial tension and blurred class distinctions within the forgotten Australian outback. I don not want to give away too much but it is a mean and hugely enjoyable film (do not blink or you'll miss the best gunshot-head explosion I have ever seen. Bigger and better than 'Bad Taste' or any 'Alien' sci-fi flick).
So, if you missed any of this - don't worry, only eleven more months and our fifth festival will be on our doorsteps, rearing its gigantic head again. Undoubtedly heralding an even more impressive selection which will speak entirely for itself, but the website for all its information can be found at: www.dubliniff.com if you want to have a gawk at what you missed!
Enjoy and don't forget: get your tickets early next time!